US to formally recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital despite intense Arab, Muslim and European opposition to a move that would upend decades of US policy and risk potentially violent protests.
Defying dire, worldwide warnings, US President Donald Trump on Wednesday recognised the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel's capital – a historic decision that overturns decades of US policy and risks triggering a fresh spasm of violence in the Middle East.
"I have determined that it is time to officially recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel," Trump said from the White House.
"It's the right thing to do,” he added.
He also for the first time personally endorsed the concept of a "two-state solution" for Israel and the Palestinians, provided both sides agree to it.
Trump said the recognition acknowledged the "obvious" fact that Jerusalem is the seat of Israel's government despite the disputed status that is one of the key elements in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"This is nothing more or less than the recognition of reality," he said.
The declaration calls into question seven decades of deliberate diplomatic ambiguity about the final status of a holy city vociferously claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians.
Trump also kicked off the process of moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, making good on a campaign promise dear to evangelical Christian and right-wing Jewish voters – as well as donors. He said he had directed the US State Department to begin the process. Officials said, however, that the move will take years to complete.
The businessman and former reality TV star said his decision marked the start of a "new approach" to solving the thorny conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Trump's predecessors – from Bill Clinton to George Bush – made similar promises on the campaign trail, but quickly reneged upon taking office, and the burden of war and peace.
This most unlikely of presidents, who came to office with no foreign policy experience and denouncing experts, was determined to show his arrival in Washington spells the end of business as usual.
"Many presidents have said they want to do something and they didn't do it," Trump said in the hours leading up to his historic address.
"Whether it's courage or they changed their mind, I can't tell you," he said. "I think it's long overdue."
The announcement leaves many angry US allies and leaders across the Middle East trying to find a measured response and hoping that the tinderbox region is not destined for yet another round of bloodletting.
Pope Francis joined a list of leaders warning of an historic misstep that could trigger a surge of violence.
"I cannot silence my deep concern over the situation that has emerged in recent days," the pontiff said Wednesday, one day after speaking by phone with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.
The pontiff added that maintaining Jerusalem's status quo was important "in order to avoid adding new elements of tension to an already volatile world that is wracked by so many cruel conflicts."
In a frantic series of calls, the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, the European Union, France, Germany and Turkey also warned Trump against the move.
‘Days of rage’
Moving the US Embassy will probably take years to implement, but the repercussions of Trump's decision are likely to be swift.
Hundreds of Palestinians burned US and Israeli flags as well as pictures of Trump in the Gaza Strip, while relatively small clashes erupted near the flashpoint West Bank city of Hebron.
The Palestinian armed Islamist movement Hamas has threatened to launch a new "intifada," or uprising. Palestinians called for three days of protests – or "days of rage" – starting Wednesday.
Anticipating protests, US government officials and their families were ordered to avoid Jerusalem's Old City and the West Bank, though the situation remained largely calm Wednesday.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for a summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the main pan-Islamic body, in Istanbul on December 13 "to display joint action among Islamic countries" over Jerusalem.
"Such a step will only play into the hands of terror groups," Erdogan said at a joint news conference in Ankara after talks with Jordan's King Abdullah II.
Jordan and the Palestinians also called for an emergency meeting of the Arab League in Cairo.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refrained from commenting on the issue on Wednesday in his first speech since Trump's plan was confirmed.
Peace still possible, US says
Most of the international community does not formally recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, insisting the issue can only be resolved in negotiations.
The White House argues the move would not prejudge final talks and would represent the reality that west Jerusalem is and will continue to be part of Israel under any settlement.
Critics say Trump's approach could extinguish his own efforts to broker Middle East peace while igniting the flames of conflict in a region already reeling from crises in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Qatar.
Israel seized the largely Arab eastern sector of Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it, claiming both sides of the city as its capital.
The Palestinians want the eastern sector as the capital of their future state.
Trump was pushed to act now on the Embassy as a result of the a 1995 law, which stated that the city "should be recognised as the capital of the state of Israel" and the US Embassy be moved there. A waiver has been invoked by successive US presidents, postponing the move on grounds of "national security" once every six months, meaning the law has never taken effect.
Several peace plans have unravelled in the past decades over the issue of how to divide sovereignty or oversee holy sites in Jerusalem.
Israel seized control of Palestinian east Jerusalem from Jordan during a 1967 war and later annexed it. The move was never recognised by the international community but Israel declared the city its undivided capital. The Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.No countries have accepted Israeli sovereignty and have their embassies in the commercial capital Tel Aviv instead. The city's eastern sector contains some of the sites holiest to Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
Jerusalem's population is divided not only between Israeli Jews and Palestinians, but also within the Jewish population, with over a third of the city's 542,000 adult Jewish residents defining themselves as ultra-Orthodox, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. The ultra-Orthodox are the fastest growing segment in the city, with over two-thirds of elementary school children enrolled in their schools in Jerusalem.
Palestinians in Jerusalem have Israeli residency and access to services. Most Palestinians do not partake in municipal elections and cannot vote in parliamentary elections. NGOs in support of them denounce what they describe as the unequal distribution of resources and services in east and west Jerusalem.
Alongside the religious sites, institutions and people, Jerusalem is host to Israel's top higher education facility, the Hebrew University, whose founding fathers include Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud.
The Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Sam Spiegel Film and Television School and Nissan Nativ acting studio are some of the institutions that draw Israel's most talented artists.
The Palestinian National Theatre is among the rare Palestinian institutions located in Jerusalem. Israeli authorities do not allow the Palestinian Authority to operate in the city.
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, 78 percent of the three million tourists who entered Israel in 2016 visited Jerusalem. The most popular destinations were the Western Wall along with the Christian holy sites at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Via Dolorosa, all in the walled Old City.
Other popular tourist sites are Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem and the Israel Museum, home to a collection of nearly 500,000 objects of art and archaeology, ancient and modern, including the Dead Sea Scrolls which date back more than two millennia and include some of the earliest texts from the Bible.
Muslim pilgrims visit the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, the third-holiest site in Islam. The compound is known to Jews as the Temple Mount, their holiest site.